The best books about the Napoleonic Wars and their impact on Europe

Philip Dwyer Author Of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799
By Philip Dwyer

Who am I?

I'm an Australian historian specializing in the French Revolution and Napoleon. I have spent a goodly part of my career writing a three-volume biography of Napoleon, alongside chapters, articles, and edited books that aimed at reassessing the man and the period. Working on Napoleon and the French as occupiers led me into the history of massacre and more broadly into the history of violence. I studied under the preeminent French Napoleonic scholar, Jean Tulard, at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV.

I wrote...

Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

By Philip Dwyer,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

What is my book about?

In the first volume of the trilogy, I focused on Napoleon’s formative years, from his Corsican origins to his French education, from his melancholy youth to his flirtation with radicals of the French Revolution, from his first military campaigns in Italy and Egypt to the political-military coup that brought him to power in 1799. One of the first truly modern politicians, Napoleon was a master of “spin,” using the media to project an idealized image of himself. 

I was always fascinated by his meteoric rise from literally a nobody to gain power in the most powerful country in Europe at the young age of thirty. The journey that led him there was neither inevitable nor smooth. This is one of the few biographies that really attempt to uncover the man, that focuses on the evolution of Napoleon as a leader, and that debunks many of the myths that are often repeated about him. I tried to reveal just how ruthless, manipulative, and driven a man he really was.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848

By Paul W. Schroeder,

Book cover of The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848

Why this book?

This masterful analysis of European foreign policy encompasses a period slightly larger than the life of Napoleon, but the core of the book is the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. On first reading this I was struck not only by the depth and breadth of Schroeder’s knowledge, but also by his uncanny ability to question standard interpretations and to present an original and oftentimes provocative evaluation. This book made me think about how best to write history. Elegantly written, this is an accomplished tome that will be read by students of foreign policy for many years to come. 

Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

By Dominic Lieven,

Book cover of Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

Why this book?

One of the few books to explore Russia’s interactions with France, and not just the disastrous 1812 campaign. Lieven, a specialist in Imperial Russian history, gives the reader an invaluable insight into Russian thinking and Russian sources that is often missing from English language books on the Napoleonic Wars. Written in an accessible and engaging style, it explores the central role Alexander I played in Napoleon’s downfall as ‘liberator’ of Europe.

The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

By David A. Bell,

Book cover of The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

Why this book?

Not everyone agreed with the author’s assessment of the Napoleonic Wars as the first total war, and I can’t say that I am overly convinced myself, but Bell presents the reader with an interesting and provocative interpretation of the practice of warfare at the dawn of the modern era. I came away with a better appreciation of the horror of battle and war during this period, something that is often glossed over in the standard military histories of the era. Was the practice of ‘total war’ brought about by mass conscription or had the seeds already been planted? 

The Peninsular War: A New History

By Charles J. Esdaile,

Book cover of The Peninsular War: A New History

Why this book?

Charles Esdaile, a specialist of Spanish history, is one of the more prolific writers on the Napoleonic Wars, so it was not easy choosing only one of the numerous books he has penned, including a general history of the wars. Spain, however, has always remained a bit of an outlier in the history of the period. Here we get an insider’s view of the situation in Spain leading to the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy and an accessible, lively account of the often complicated events that followed. Esdaile doesn’t shy away from treating either the Spanish, the guerrillas, or Wellington head on.

Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814

By Rory Muir,

Book cover of Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814

Why this book?

Speaking of which, this is the first of a two-volume biography of Wellington and is no doubt the most exhaustive and the most up-to-date biography of the man and his career. I’ve personally always found Wellington to be a fairly unlikeable character and there is nothing in this biography that made me change my mind. However, Muir’s familiarity with the sources and the archives enables him to integrate the personal, the military, and the political into this thorough examination of the man that ultimately defeated Napoleon.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Napoleonic Wars, Europe, and Napoleon Bonaparte?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Napoleonic Wars, Europe, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Napoleonic Wars Explore 48 books about the Napoleonic Wars
Europe Explore 497 books about Europe
Napoleon Bonaparte Explore 63 books about Napoleon Bonaparte

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Salamanca, 1812, Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon, and Napoleon if you like this list.